CollaborateUp CEO’s Insights on the Latest Trends Shaping Our Industry

How might someone determine whether or not to take a harm reduction approach? When does it work and when won’t it?

We like to say, “Fall in love with the problem before you fall in love with the solution.” When we work with groups trying to solve really complex problems, we often see people — especially in the Global North — jump to solutions. But we need to step back and consider the nature of the problem. Some problems, like disease, addiction, and energy use, are are endemic to the human condition. In all of human history, we have successfully eradicated only two diseases, smallpox and rinderpest, and the emergence of new diseases continues. Using drugs and alcohol in moderation or as advised by medical professionals can bring health benefits, but results in crippling addiction and chronic disease when taken too far. Energy use has raised millions out of poverty and dramatically improved health and wellbeing but the unintended consequences of pollution and climate change have created an existential crisis. These kinds of challenges require a managed approach, rather than an abstinence approach.

So, before deciding what solution to apply, consider the problem. Really complex problems often have aspects to them that simply can’t be eradicated. For those problems or at least their endemic elements, consider using a managed harm reduction approach. This recent podcast from one of my favorites, Freakonomics Radio, neatly restates the case and provides specific examples for using harm reduction to tackle both addiction and energy use.

How does the CollaborateUp Formula help stakeholders navigate and apply harm reduction? How does it turn theory into practice?

The second step in our Formula is the Problem Lab. We deliberately designed this section to allow collaborators to “fall in love with the problem before falling in love with the solution.” During this step, we take collaborators through a set of step-by-step exercises to diagnose the kind of problem they face. We specifically apply our Adaptive Challenges rubric and our Stakeholder Engagement Continuum to assess the complexity level of the problem and the degree to which multi-stakeholder collaboration is required. We also help them break down the problem, using our Collaboration Canvas to identify which parts require a Technical Solution vs. an Adaptive Solution and to determine which might benefit from a Harm Reduction Approach.